10 Healthy High Leucine Foods

Will Kreznick

You may have heard about an essential amino acid called leucine when browsing new fitness supplements or reading up on how to manage your blood sugar levels. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body can make some types by itself, while it needs to obtain others from […]

You may have heard about an essential amino acid called leucine when browsing new fitness supplements or reading up on how to manage your blood sugar levels.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body can make some types by itself, while it needs to obtain others from your diet. These are called essential amino acids.

Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) — just like valine and isoleucine — and is important for repairing and building muscle. In fact, getting enough leucine may prevent muscle wasting among older adults (1, 2, 3).

Leucine also appears to help manage blood sugar levels. It’s speculated to do so by facilitating glucose uptake into your body’s cells and improving insulin response (4, 5).

For most adults, the current recommendation for leucine is a minimum daily intake of 121 mg per pound (55 mg per kg) of body weight, or approximately 4.4 grams per day for a 175-pound (80-kg) person (6, 7).

However, in a more recent study, the World Health Organization states that healthy adults should get 86 mg of leucine per pound (39 mg per kg) of body weight per day. This equates to approximately 3.1 grams per day for a 175-pound (80-kg) person (8).

Fortunately, deficiency in this amino acid is rare because of the wide array of foods that contain it. Here are 10 high leucine foods.

A 1/3-cup (100-gram) serving of canned navy beans offers 0.7 grams of leucine (9).

They’re also a good source of protein, fiber, and micronutrients like folate and other B vitamins, manganese, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium.

Eating navy beans has been shown to protect heart health and improve metabolic risk factors associated with obesity, such as elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels (10, 11).

They also contain phosphatidylserine, a fatty compound that may benefit aspects of brain health like memory, focus, and problem-solving and communication skills (12).

Navy beans have a neutral flavor that lends itself well to countless meals. For a nutrient boost, try enjoying them in soups, salads, marinated as a side dish, or puréed into a white bean dip.

SUMMARY

Canned navy beans are a good source of leucine, with 0.7 grams per 1/3-cup (100-gram) serving. They’re versatile and can be enjoyed in many ways.

A 1/2-cup (100-gram) serving of 1% fat cottage cheese contains 1.27 grams of leucine (13).

It’s also a good source of protein, vitamin B12, and selenium.

Thanks to its high protein content, eating cottage cheese may support weight loss by keeping you feeling full for longer. The cheese can also help you gain muscle mass if combined with resistance training (14, 15).

Top cottage cheese with berries and nuts for a filling breakfast, use it to make stuffed pasta shells and lasagna filling, or enjoy it as a side to just about any entrée. You can even use it as a healthy substitute for mayonnaise in foods like sandwiches.

SUMMARY

Cottage cheese is a great source of leucine, with 1.27 grams per 1/2-cup (100-gram) serving. It also offers protein, vitamin B12, and selenium. You can enjoy it for any meal of the day or use it in recipes.

Just 2 tablespoons (18 grams) of whole, dried sesame seeds contain 0.25 grams of leucine (16).

These nutrient-dense seeds are also a good source of fiber, protein, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins.

Furthermore, they contain plant compounds that human and animal studies have shown may reduce inflammation, manage blood sugar, and lower high cholesterol levels (17, 18, 19).

Sesame seeds are great in stir-fries, pasta dishes, and smoothies, as well as on green salads. You might also enjoy sesame seed butter, which is called tahini.

SUMMARY

Sesame seeds may be tiny, but just a 2-tablespoon (18-gram) serving contains a number of micronutrients and 0.25 grams of leucine.

A 1-ounce (28-gram) portion of dried pumpkin seeds contains 0.7 grams of leucine (20).

Pumpkin seeds are full of plant compounds that are known to benefit health. They’re also a rich source of nutrients like protein, fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron, zinc, and copper (21).

Eating seeds regularly has been shown to support heart health, largely due to the fats they provide. Enjoy pumpkin seeds along with other seeds like chia, hemp, flax, sesame, and sunflower (22).

Pumpkin seeds are delicious when seasoned and roasted in the oven, mixed into granola or trail mix, blended into pesto, or baked into bread and cookies.

SUMMARY

Dried pumpkin seeds are a good source of leucine, offering 0.7 grams in each 1-ounce (28-gram) serving. They also contain many vitamins and minerals that can benefit your health.

One extra-large egg (about 56 grams) contains 0.6 grams of leucine (23).

Eggs are also full of protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, selenium, and choline, the latter of which is essential for cellular and brain health (24).

Plus, eggs contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two types of carotenoids. These colorful compounds have antioxidant properties that benefit your eye health (25).

Boiled eggs are great portable high protein snacks. You can also cook eggs into a breakfast scramble or use them in baked goods like bread, muffins, and waffles.

SUMMARY

One large egg provides 0.6 grams of leucine, in addition to protein, B vitamins, and choline. Enjoy them as a portable snack or key ingredient in many recipes.

Just 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of hulled hemp seeds offer 0.65 grams of leucine (26).

These seeds are also rich in protein, fiber, manganese, vitamin E, and unsaturated fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties.

Plus, animal and human studies show that hemp seeds and hemp-seed-based supplements may improve arthritis symptoms and support digestive and heart health (27, 28, 29, 30).

Hemp seeds are tiny and versatile, boasting a subtle, earthy flavor. They can be sprinkled onto salads and pasta dishes, blended into smoothies, or enjoyed on ice cream or other desserts.

SUMMARY

Hemp seeds can be blended into smoothies or added to a variety of dishes as a source of leucine, protein, and fiber. Just 3 tablespoons (30 grams) offer 0.65 grams of leucine.

One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains 1.3 grams of leucine (31).

Lentils are also full of fiber, antioxidants, protein, and health-promoting plant compounds that might benefit your heart and brain (32, 33, 34, 35).

They can be used in many of the same ways as beans. For example, they work well marinated as a wholesome side dish or in soups, salads, and homemade veggie burger patties.

SUMMARY

Lentils are a tasty and convenient source of plant-based protein. They’re rich in leucine, providing 1.3 grams in just one cup (198 grams), along with other health-promoting plant compounds.

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae packed with protein, B vitamins, copper, and iron. Add it to green smoothies and juices, energy balls, or savory puddings and popsicles.

Just 2 tablespoons (14 grams) of dried spirulina contain 0.69 grams of leucine (36).

Animal studies have shown that these algae benefit the gut microbiome, while human studies have found that they may help support heart health and help manage blood sugar levels (37, 38, 39, 40).

SUMMARY

Spirulina adds leucine, protein, and various vitamins and minerals to your diet. Just 2 tablespoons (14 grams) contain 0.69 grams of leucine. Use it in smoothies, juices, or savory popsicles.

A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of Spanish peanuts contains 0.5 grams of leucine (41).

What’s more, peanuts are full of unsaturated fats, protein, and fiber, and eating them regularly may help protect against heart disease in certain populations (42).

They make a tasty snack on their own but can also be used to make peanut noodles, peanut soup, granola and trail mixes, energy balls, or homemade peanut butter.

SUMMARY

Peanuts and peanut butter aren’t just rich in healthy fats and protein but also offer 0.5 grams of leucine per 1-ounce (28-gram) serving. Regularly eating peanuts can also support heart health.

A 1-cup (234-gram) portion of cooked oats contains 0.5 grams of leucine (43).

Oats contain more protein and fiber than most other grains. Plus, they contain a specific type of soluble fiber called beta glucan, which is shown to benefit heart health (44, 45, 46).

While oats are renowned as the key ingredient in oatmeal, they can also be ground into flour for baking, added to smoothies, or toasted for use in homemade granola.

SUMMARY

Just 1 cup (234 grams) of cooked oats provides 0.5 grams of leucine. Oats are also a great source of protein and a specific type of fiber that may support heart health.

Leucine is an essential branched-chain amino acid (BCAA). This means that it’s especially important for muscle repair and building and that your body can’t produce it by itself. Thus, you have to get it from your diet.

While leucine deficiency is rare, getting enough of it is important to help manage your blood sugar levels and prevent muscle wasting, especially among older adults.

Fortunately, plenty of healthy, tasty foods contain leucine, including eggs, seeds, oats, legumes, and spirulina, and they’re all easy to incorporate into your diet.

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